Keywords: environmental sociologists; globalization; climate change; Joseph Stiglitz; Doha round; agricultural subsidies;re-localization
There are fashions in worries. I’m on the train, returning to Toronto after a day in Montreal, where I talked with a couple of environmental sociologists, among other pleasures. Last year (or especially two or three years ago) I would surely have had a conversation about globalization. This time, however, I had two significant conversations about climate change and the degree of pessimism that seems warranted.
On the train I’ve been reading Joseph Stiglitz’s new book, Making Globalization Work. It feels like an old issue, though of course it is still vitally important in the lives of billions of people, especially in developing countries.
The chapter I’ve been reading is about agricultural subsidies. Again, it makes the rich countries appear unconscionably greedy. It recounts the history of the previous rounds of global trade negotiations. Always they have addressed liberalizing the regulations of trade for economic spheres where the rich countries are advantaged. This last time, in the Doha round, there was a promise to work on reducing or eliminating agricultural subsidies, for that would markedly help the poor countries. In exchange, the developing countries made further concessions.
Yet again, the rich countries failed to carry through with their promises. In fact, in 2002 the US passed a new law that nearly doubled it agricultural subsidies. The next year at a meeting in Cancun, Mexico, the EU and the US insisted in pushing their own agenda, to reduce tariffs and open access for the goods and services that the US wanted to export. This time the meeting broke up on the fourth day in disarray. Again in 2005 the negotiators met in Hong Kong and also failed to make progress.
Stiglitz, a left-of-center economist who had worked in the World Bank and in the White House, points out that the average European cow receives a subsidy of $2 per day – more than the income level of human beings in the poor countries. He writes,
“Since the vast majority of those living in developing countries depend directly or indirectly on agriculture for their livelihood, eliminating subsidies and opening up agricultural markets would, by raising prices, be of enormous benefit.”
One point of this would be to enable farmers in the South to export some of their produce. But that’s when my other new preoccupations begin to intrude and make me wonder how relevant this reform may be.
What I am hearing about global warming is apocalyptic. I don’t know what kinds of numbers are involved in these projections, but the main implications are horrible – probably even more so for most people in the “South” than for those of us in northern climes. Their land is going to fry.
But worse yet, the only way anyone is going to survive, if at all, is by “re-localization.” People will consume food from their own region because it will be too expensive to transport it. No more papayas in Toronto.
So maybe it makes no sense to address the problem of peak oil because climate change and globalization will take care of that for us – though not in the way we want.
What a conundrum. I can’t even get up to speed with today’s social problem before it becomes obsolete. In the past, however, I’ve had the satisfaction of knowing that all the problems we’ve been addressing were systemic and interrelated, so that whenever I work on democracy or economic justice or racism, for example, I’m also indirectly working to reduce the problem of warfare and violence. I’m not sure that’s the case with globalization and climate change. If we work on the former, it won’t have any bearing that I can foresee on the other problem.
Am I wrong? Maybe some good reader can enlighten me. Thank you.